Certain community characteristics can contribute to an increased risk of child maltreatment. For example, neighborhood poverty can increase the likelihood of maltreatment, particularly when combined with other individual risk factors, such as depression and substance use.
Protective factors that can help families and communities build resilience and promote positive outcomes include ensuring access to support and services, emphasizing norms of shared responsibility for supporting parents and families, and implementing evidence-based practices.
The following resources describe how community and environmental characteristics can be risk factors for child maltreatment.
Geography Matters: Consider Family and Child Well-Being in the Context of Community (PDF - 1,471 KB)
Casey Family Programs (2015)
Explains how children and families should be viewed in the context of their social environments and provides information on using community-level characteristics to better serve child welfare systems in the areas of prevention and child maltreatment.
Is It Possible to Modify Neighborhood-Level Characteristics to Reduce the Rate of Child Maltreatment?
Casey Family Programs (2020)
Describes a research study that examined children within the context of their community to determine whether neighborhood-level characteristics such as crime and poverty could be modified to reduce or prevent maltreatment. Findings from the study showed that strengthening and improving neighborhood-level social processes may be more effective in reducing maltreatment than individual- or family-level efforts.
Neighborhood-Level Social Processes and Substantiated Cases of Child Maltreatment
Molnar, Goerge, Gilsanz, Hill, Subramanian, Holton, Duncan, et al. (2016)
Child Abuse & Neglect, 51
Shows how neighborhood structural factors can influence the number of children who will become victims of maltreatment. This study examined neighborhood-level data in Chicago to find associations between neighborhood social processes and child abuse.
Risk Terrain Modeling Predicts Child Maltreatment
Daley, Bachmann, Bachmann, Pedigo, Bui, & Coffman (2016)
Child Abuse & Neglect, 62
Uses risk terrain modeling to analyze the effects of environmental factors thought to contribute to child maltreatment risk to create a prediction model about where future child maltreatment cases may occur in Fort Worth, TX.
Why Does Child Maltreatment Occur? Caregiver Perspectives and Analyses of Neighborhood Structural Factors Across Twenty Years
Gross-Manos, Haas, Richter, Korbin, Coulton, Crampton, & Spilsbury (2019)
Children and Youth Services Review, 99
Compares factors contributing to child maltreatment in a neighborhood at two different time periods. Results showed that the most important factors contributing to increased risk were drugs, alcohol, and psychological or emotional problems.
Child Maltreatment Risk as a Function of Poverty and Race/Ethnicity in the USA
Kim & Drake (2018)
International Journal of Epidemiology, 47(3)
Examines the association between child maltreatment and environmental poverty in different racial and ethnic groups in the United States.
Community Poverty and Child Abuse Fatalities in the United States
Farrell, Fleegler, Monteaux, Wilson, Christian, & Lee (2017)
Investigates the link between fatal child abuse and poverty and finds that a higher concentration of poverty is associated with increased rates of child abuse fatalities.
The Impact of Housing Instability on Child Maltreatment: A Causal Investigation
Journal of Family Social Work, 21(4–5)
Presents the results of a study that showed housing instability leads to a small increase in child maltreatment behaviors, but this small impact does not fully explain the overrepresentation of unstably housed families in the child welfare system. Families experiencing housing instability likely have a range of other contributing factors, such as poverty, domestic violence, and maternal depression.
Income Instability and Child Maltreatment: Exploring Associations and Mechanisms (PDF - 634 KB)
Children and Youth Services Review, 108
Examines the association between frequent income instability and child maltreatment in low-income families. The results of the study showed income instability significantly increases the risk of child maltreatment.
Selected Library Resources: Community and Environmental Risk Factors for Child Maltreatment
Presents research articles from prior to 2016 related to community and environmental risk factors for child abuse and neglect and that have contributed to the literature on the social ecological framework for conceptualizing risk factors for child maltreatment.